The number of UK students applying to start university this autumn - the first year of the tuition fee hike - has fallen by nearly 9 per cent.
Applications from English students have been hit the hardest, statistics published by university admissions service Ucas suggest.
The figures show that the number of English students applying for degree courses has slumped by 9.9%.
In Scotland where Scottish students do not have to pay fees applicants were down by 1.5% and in Wales, where Welsh students are subsidised, numbers were down 1.9%.
Tuition fees for home students attending English universities will treble to a maximum of £9,000 a year this September.
The Ucas snapshot reveals that in total, 462,507 UK students have applied for courses beginning in the autumn, compared with 506,388 at this point last year - a drop of 8.7%.
Overall applications from all students, both home and abroad, are down by 7.4%.
Education experts warned that the Government's plans to raise tuition fees could be having an impact on application figures.
But Ucas chief executive Mary Curnock Cook suggested that population changes could be a factor in the fall, and said the drop in demand was larger among wealthier students than poorer ones.
And university leaders said the dip had been "far less dramatic" than had been predicted.
Ms Curnock Cook said: "The more detailed analysis of application rates for young people takes account of population changes. This shows a fall of just one percentage point in the application rate in England, with little change across the rest of the UK.
"Our analysis shows that decreases in demand are slightly larger in more advantaged groups than in the disadvantaged groups. Widely expressed concerns about recent changes in HE funding arrangements having a disproportionate effect on more disadvantaged groups are not borne out by these data."
Martin Lewis, of MoneySavingExpert and head of the Independent Taskforce on Student Finance Information, said: "There is no doubt that the new higher fees in England will have put some students off. More difficult is assessing how big a problem that is."
Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of vice chancellors' umbrella group Universities UK, said: "While overall applicants have decreased compared with the same point last year, the dip is far less dramatic than many were initially predicting.
"And if we look at the number of 18-year-old applicants from the UK, this has dropped by only 3.6% at a time when the overall 18-year-old population is in decline."
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), said: "Today's figures are very worrying and once again highlight the Government's folly in raising tuition fees to as much as £9,000 a year.
"Applications in England are down over 50% more than in any other part of the UK as a result of the Government making it the most expensive country in the world in which to gain a public degree.
"We cannot afford a system that puts people off university if we are to compete in the modern world."
Liam Burns, president of the National Union of Students (NUS), said: "At a time when jobs are in short supply and youth unemployment has increased dramatically, the full impact of the Government's changes to higher education funding cannot be fully understood until we know which groups of students have applied and been accepted to particular types of university.
"Factors such as wealth, geographical location and age will all have to be understood first to prevent human potential being wasted as a result of the chaotic changes to higher education that ministers have instigated."
Universities Minister David Willetts said: "The proportion of English school-leavers applying to university today is greater than ever before, barring last year.
"It is encouraging that applications from people from some of the most disadvantaged backgrounds remain strong, with only a 0.2% decrease.
"Even with a small reduction in applications, this will still be a competitive year like any other as people continue to understand that university remains a good long-term investment in your future."
Today's statistics are the first snapshot to be published since the main deadline for applying to university - January 15.
Would-be students who apply before this date will have the application given "equal consideration" by universities.
Here are the main statistics from the university application figures published by UCAS today:
* The number of UK applicants fell by 8.7%;
* Overall applications from all students, both home and abroad, are down by 7.4%;
* In England the number of applicants has dropped by 9.9%, compared to 4% in Northern Ireland, 1.5% in Scotland and 1.9% in Wales;
* The number of male applicants is down 8.5%, and for women it is down 6.7%;
* The number of applicants aged 18 has fallen 2.6%, those aged 19 are down 12.6%, while those aged 25 to 29 are down 11.8%, applications from 30 to 39-year-olds are down 9.9% and applicants aged 40 and over are down 10.5%;
* The number of applicants from other EU countries has fallen by 11.2%, but the total number of overseas applicants, outside the EU, has risen 13.7%;
* The South West has seen the biggest fall in applicants - down 12.6%, while in the North East it has fallen 11.2%;
* The West Midlands has seen the smallest drop in applicants in England - down 7.3%;
* The application rate for 18-year-olds from the most disadvantaged areas in England has decreased slightly (by 0.2%) in 2012, while for the most advantaged areas it has dropped by 2.5%.
* By course, non-European languages and related subjects have seen the biggest fall in applicants - down 21.5%.